The author describes how his nine month old daughter Isabel was diagnosed with an absurdly rare, viciously malignant brain tumor; how the illness progressed and his family's world imploded; and on to the cruel end.
I get it about my friend who had to give the article a pass. More than once as I read I found I could hardly breathe.
Hemon writes fiction, and his simultaneous observation of an older daughter, Ella, just shy of three years as her infant sister was dying, is as compelling as the brutal course of Isabel's decline. At the time, Ella was coming into the full flower of her grasp of language. As Hemon puts it:
It is not unusual, of course, for children of Ella's age to have imaginary friends or siblings. The creation of an imaginary character is related, I believe, to the explosion of linguistic abilities that occurs between the ages of two and four, and rapidly creates an excess of language, which the child may not have enough experience to match. She has to construct imaginary narratives in order to try out the words that she suddenly possesses.
Mercilessly open-eyed about the divergent worlds in his own small family, with one daughter deathly ill and the other blooming, Hemon writes: "While our world was being reduced to the claustrophobic size of ceaseless dread, Ella's was expanding."
But here was the kicker for me, as someone who has been driven to write for all my adult life:
One day at breakfast, while Ella ate her oatmeal and rambled on about her [imaginary] brother, I recognized in a humbling flash that she was doing exactly what I'd been doing as a writer all these years: the fictional characters in my books had allowed me to understand what was hard for me to understand (which, so far, had been nearly everything). Much like Ella, I'd found myself with an excess of words, the wealth of which far exceeded the pathetic limits of my own biography.
Zing! Right to the core of the heart of the center of the bullseye. One more time: "[...] I'd found myself with an excess of words, the wealth of which far exceeded the pathetic limits of my own biography."
That Hemon could reach into the inferno and pull this white-hot truth from the flames suggest that he has come to understand a great deal indeed. At a cost that he bears, though it is unbearable.
Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Craft and art: erasure and accent
Does a writer need a writers' group?
Drafting vs. editing
Thanks to mktr for the image of Aleksandar Hemon reading from his novel The Lazarus Project, via Flickr.